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Overview of Marriott
Marriott broke ground earlier this month by launching the hospitality industry’s first media network. It is unlikely to be the last hotel owner to do so, and marketers shouldn’t be surprised if other sectors, from airlines to financial services, chase the same early-mover advantage in the months ahead.
The demand for first-party data isn’t going anywhere with the death of cookies looming in 2023. Companies that own reams of personally identifiable information derived from digital properties like apps and websites are wizening up to the fact that those assets are very monetizable.
As in, break out a new revenue segment monetizable. But as these media networks proliferate and scale, questions arise as to whether they’re lessening complexity for brands or simply adding another layer in a landscape that’s already notoriously hard to navigate.
Marketers faced with a surfeit of options might get pickier in their choice partners and more demanding of transparency, narrowing the playing field.
“In the wake of third-party cookies disappearing, companies that have a lot of first-party transaction or sales data and customer data really understand that’s a true source of competitive advantage,” said Julie Jeancolas, global head of media and customer engagement solutions at Dunnhumby. Dunnhumby works with Walmart, one of the leading retail media players, on a customer data-sharing platform called Luminate.
“Any sector that has access to addressable first-party data that you can actually then target — and you have the consent of the customer — or any sector that has a large media estate can build a retail media network,” Jeancolas added.
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Retail has set the trend when it comes to media networks, and the pace is staggering. Companies ranging from big-box stores like Walmart and Target to niche and local players are rushing to stand up offerings that combine aspects of ad sales, technology and commerce.
Ulta, the beauty brand, unveiled a UB Media network in May, speaking to how category-specific companies are coming around to the idea. Sephora, a rival, was hiring for a position that would help build a similar-sounding platform earlier this year.
Fresh coat of paint
Marriott’s announcement was noteworthy in billing the platform, which draws on the Bonvoy loyalty program comprised of 164 million members, specifically as a “media network” versus a traditional marketing arrangement.
“Marriott has historically sold advertising targeted around the hotel you’re staying at,” said Harrison. “They have done that as one-offs or within email, so it’s been more like a newsletter rather than a real media network. Now, they have so much traffic to their properties that they own and operate, they can drive media revenue off of that.”
UB Media, which relies on the brand’s Ultamate Rewards loyalty scheme, takes a similar approach. While Ulta has operated a marketing practice for years, this is technically its first retail media network.
Other categories adopting the media network moniker recognize the success that retail has had with the branding and potentially see it as a method of attracting more advertiser dollars. These companies could “reposition, replatform and resell an existing marketing partner or points program or display program into something a little more sophisticated and modern,” said Chris Parker, founder and managing partner at the ad agency Scrum50.
Point of differentiation
Retail may be the model to follow in establishing a media network, but some pages of the playbook may be easier to copy than others. Greener industries dipping their toes into the space must consider what types of data they wield, whether that data is addressable and what kinds of activations are actually going to appeal to their target advertisers, experts said.
“The more interaction you have with the customer, the more you learn about them, the more you capture their preferences and the more you can personalize,” said Dunnhumby’s Jeancolas.
This setup benefits businesses like grocery stores that people visit on a regular basis and where they tend to buy the same things repeatedly. It isn’t necessarily something that translates to hospitality, barring special cases like business travel.
“If you look at a Tesco or Target or Kroger, they have those frequent interactions with customers. Marriott doesn’t. I don’t think you visit a Marriott every day or every week,” said Jeancolas. “How [is Marriott] going to enhance their understanding of their customers, their loyalty database?”
Data alliances with complementary brands are one potential solution, according to Jeancolas. Tie-ups like Marriott’s with Yahoo are at the same time indicative of how many brands will rely on outside tech assistance to get their media networks off the ground.
Broader adoption of the media network concept also arrives as some of the honeymoon phase wears off for retailers. For one thing, the sheer number of retail media networks may be nearing a saturation point. Brands are naturally going to gravitate toward the platforms that deliver the widest reach and most bang for their buck. Increasingly, those look like a lot of the same names that have dominated brick and mortar and e-commerce to date.
“Brands or agencies, especially, will try to find the platforms that give them access to the maximum amount of inventory available,” said Jeancolas. “There will be some consolidation.”
How retailers keep brands in their ecosystems has occasionally proved frustrating as well. Retail media networks are frequently promoted as a break with digital advertising’s long-standing walled gardens of Google and Facebook. Marketers have made clear that these alternatives can be just as opaque. With media networks becoming a larger portion of retail growth strategies, they may also become mandated spending allotments for CPG partners versus a nice add-on to have.
“Six months, a year ago people were talking about Walmart Connect and Kroger and [Target’s] Roundel as a way to grow sales,” said Harrison. “Now, you’re starting to hear them talk about it as a tax and that it’s trade promotion masked in a retail media network.”
While that’s a potential warning sign for new media network entrants, it also suggests they have an opportunity to shake up the model in substantive ways.
“There’s going to have to be some sort of shift toward transparency,” said Harrison. “What will be interesting is, which of the big retail networks is the first to crack? Once one does it, it would seem that all of them would.”
Correction: A prior version of this story misstated the year of Winterberry Group’s projections for retail media spending in the U.S. The forecast is for 2022.
What Is Marriott’s Free Night Top-Off?
Similar to IHG’s flexible free nights, Marriott’s free night top-off expands the use of annual free night certificates. FNAs from the Marriott credit cards and Annual Choice Benefit are valid at hotels requiring 35,000 to 50,000 points per night. With the top-off benefit, you can redeem up to 15,000 points per night for a hotel exceeding the value of your free night certificate.
In light of Marriott’s dynamic pricing model, top-off awards can offer tremendous value. You won’t have to let your free night expire just because you can’t find a hotel at the specified rate. The benefit isn’t as generous as IHG’s because the points co-pay is limited to 15,000, but it still expands the usability of your free night awards beyond a limited category.
For example, award nights at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne Miami range from 50,000 to 61,000 points per night in the summer. With the Free Night Top-Off, this property becomes attainable for those with both a 35,000 or 50,000-point night FNA.
Which Cards Offer a Marriott Free Night Award?
Marriott FNAs are issued to select Marriott credit card holders annually. Depending on the card, these free nights are valid at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program and going for 35,000 or 50,000 points per night. With the free night top off, you can now redeem free night certificates at hotels requiring 50,000 and 65,000 points, respectively.
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card*: Up to 35,000 points
- Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card: Up to 35,000 points, plus a second free night after you
- spend $60,000 in a calendar year (Terms apply.)
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card: Up to 50,000 points (Terms apply.)
- The Ritz-Carlton Credit Card (no longer open to new applicants): Up to 50,000 points
In addition to co-branded credit cards, you can earn a free night through the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program. Members who complete at least 75 nights a year can select a Marriott award night as an Annual Choice Benefit. This award is valid for a free night of up to 40,000 points per night. With the top off, you can book a room requiring 55,000 points for just a 15,000-point co-pay.
Related: Marriott Hotels Costing 50,000 Points or Fewer—Bonvoy Brilliant Credit Card Free Night Certificate
How To Book a Marriott Free Night Top Off Award
Booking a Marriott free night top-off award is simple. All you need is a free night award and up to 15,000 Marriott points to complete your booking. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Log In to Your Marriott Rewards account
Your Marriott Free Night Award is stored in your Marriott account, so you’ll need to log in before you do anything else. You can check how many free night certificates you have available by navigating to the “Earned Awards” section of your account summary page. You’ll see the type of certificate available and the expiration date.
Step 2: Enter Your Travel Dates and Destination
Once you’re ready to book, head to the homepage and enter your city and travel date. Be sure to check off “Use Points/Awards” in the search field. Hit “Search” to see a list of available hotels and their nightly rates.
Step 3: Choose the Property and Room Type
Review your options and select your preferred hotel. Keep in mind that the free night top off lets you redeem up to 15,000 points in addition to your free night award. So if you have a free night from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card* or Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card, you can only book hotels going for 50,000 points per night or less.
Free nights from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card or Ritz-Carlton card allow you to book a free night up to 65,000 points with points top-off. If you’re redeeming an Annual Choice Benefit free night, you’ll need to look for hotels requiring 55,000 points per night or less.
Step 4: Finalize Your Booking
Select your room type and proceed to the confirmation page to finalize your booking.
That’s it—you just redeemed your Marriott Free Award Night Top-Off benefit.
How To Get More Marriott Bonvoy Points
Suppose you need extra points for a Marriott top-off award. In that case, you can transfer them at a 1 to 1 ratio from Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. United Airlines elite status holders can also convert their United Mileage Plus miles to Marriott points at a 1 to 1 ratio through Marriott Rewards Plus.
Remember that transferable rewards from Chase and Amex are often more valuable when redeemed for flights. You can possibly get two or more cents per point out of these currencies.
So be sure to compare the cash rates of a Marriott award before transferring points to book a top-off award. If you’re redeeming an extra 15,000 points for a top-off award, you could be trading in points valued at $300 or more—make sure the room you’re booking is worth the extra cost.
Marriott’s Free Award Night Top Off is an excellent addition to a loyalty program that hasn’t always made customer-friendly moves. Members will have a much easier time redeeming their annual FNAs if they can upgrade to more expensive hotels using points. While the 15,000-point top off is still limiting, it’s a definite improvement and makes Free Night Awards much more valuable.
I wouldn’t get a Marriott credit card for the free night award perk alone, but if you were previously content redeeming it at lower-category hotels, this new feature will be icing on the cake for you.